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A Readers' Guide To The Current New York Exhibition Of The Dead Sea Scrolls

Norman Golb

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Two salient theories concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls, each diametrically opposed to the other, today confront the public in its quest to fathom the nature of these ancient manuscripts. The one theory developed only a few years after discovery of the first seven scrolls in 1948 holds that they are writings hidden away in Judaean Wilderness caves by an ancient Jewish sect claimed to have had its headquarters at a site known as Khirbet Qumran, located near to where they were found. This view held sway universally for over thirty years and came to be treated in countless books and encyclopedia articles not as a theory but as a fact of history.

On the other hand, the theory of Jerusalem origin holds that the Scrolls were Palestinian Jewish writings originally housed in various libraries of the capital and removed, along with other valuable items, to caves of the Judaean Wilderness as a necessary response to the impending or actual Roman siege on the city of 70 A.D. This theory was first expressed by the present writer in a 1969 Jerusalem lecture and thereafter in a variety of articles and a 1995 book, and has since come to be supported both by Israeli archaeologists who have explored the Khirbet Qumran site over a period of approximately 15 years, as well as by a variety of other scholars while at the same time continuing to be opposed by traditional Qumranologists who vigorously defend the earlier interpretation.

Revised: August 18, 2009

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